Sinn Féin has defended the refusal of its seven MPs to take their seats at Westminster after an attempt to soften Brexit fell just three votes short.
Tory veteran Ken Clarke’s indicative vote motion came so close to being passed on Monday night that if the votes of Sinn Fein’s MPs had been added to those who supported the motion, it would have passed.
During the 2017 general election, Sinn Féin defended its long-standing abstentionist policy on two grounds – that of republican ideology, which refuses to swear an oath to the Queen, and also on pragmatism, with Sinn Féin claiming that Northern Ireland’s MPs had no real power in London.
With the second of those justifications now having been undone by the tight parliamentary arithmetic, yesterday Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald defended the party’s decision not to take its seats with the argument that to do so would heighten the political temperature.
Several of Sinn Féin’s political opponents – and the SDLP in particular – have called on the party to drop the abstentionist policy, claiming that it puts ideology ahead of softening or preventing Brexit.
Fine Gael minister Simon Harris said: “With a margin of only three votes in the House of Commons tonight, hard to see how Sinn Féin contend that taking their seats would not change the outcome on Brexit.”
Yesterday Sinn Féin’s leader expressed exasperation that the issue of abstentionism was being brought up.
“Our MPs were elected explicitly on an abstentionist mandate, that position is a century old, and it’s a matter of principle,” Ms McDonald said.
“Don’t imagine for a second that seven Sinn Fein MPs could enter Westminster and make sense of the utter chaos and circus of the last number of months, that’s not a real position.
“I would suggest Sinn Feinners entering Westminster would only heighten the political temperature and, far from delivering light or clarity, I would suggest it would have the practical effect of making things more confused or chaotic.”